Cal vs. UC Davis Post-Game Thoughts

Here are a few of my post-game thoughts having watched the game again.

(1)  Keenan Allen show.  Very talented, obviously.  I could speak about his speed, body control, and elusiveness, but what really stuck out to me is Allen's consciousness for ball protection.  On the end-around pass play where he pulled down the ball and started running, Allen was very conscious to move the ball to his outside arm to protect it from defenders.  It's almost as if he's been practicing with the RBs or something since it's the RBs who are always told this.  A lot of WRs are really lazy about protecting the ball because they're more concerned with speed and getting yardage, but not Allen.  I like that.

(2) Run blocking not quite up to par?  After checking the stats, I noticed Vereen had a 4.8 yard average.  That's good.  But against UC Davis,  you'd think it'd be more.  And after trying to remember the gain in my mind, I feel like the running lanes weren't huge and Vereen was often fighting for tough yards right at the line of scrimmage.  Perhaps this is just my imagination.  I haven't re-watched the game, but I sort of walked away from the game thinking that the run blocking could have been better, and there should have been gaping Grand Canyon sized running lanes for Vereen.  Perhaps I'm setting expectations a little high though.

(3) Lack of defensive pressure?  One part of the team that I really wanted to keep an eye on was the defense.  After hearing pre-season reports that the defense was getting crazy pressure on the offense, and the offensive line was always confused, I imagined that our defense would probably get 5+ sacks on the day and just have UC Davis completely befuddled.  However, the result seemed quite the opposite.  Cal only got two sacks on the day.  I didn't happen to notice any crazy blitzes.  I didn't notice any stunts.  Didn't really notice any fancy zone blitzes.  Cal rushed three, four, and five defenders pretty frequently, but it seemed like the pressure wasn't really getting to UC Davis' QB.  Perhaps Pendergast is saving up the crazy stuff for the Pac-10 opponents, or perhaps I was letting my imagination get the best of me during the off-season.

(4) Cal seemed to play lots of man coverage.  Bob Gregory will forever be known for his zone coverages.  And when Cal hired Pendergast, a lot of people started wondering if Pendergast would even play zone coverages.  I chuckled to myself when I read that one beat reporter apparently asked Pendergast if he's going to play zone defenses.  Of course he's going to play zone coverage.  Rarely does a defensive coordinator only play man or zone coverage exclusively.  But against UC Davis, it seemed like Cal seemed to man up against the UC Davis receivers quite frequently -- almost all the time.  The Cal cornerbacks would line up four to five yards off the receivers, and defend them right off the line of scrimmage.  This new style of play is refreshing.  Cal could get away with it against UC Davis since Cal's players are all probably more athletic than UC Davis' players.  However, when Cal gets into conference play, that style of defense will be MUCH riskier. 

(5) Genyk's new kickoff coverage scheme.  I must admit, I didn't get a good look at it because I was so often watching the returner and the coverage net.  However, I did notice how Genyk was keeping one Cal defender way back -- practically on the 50 yard line -- waiting for the returner should the returner make it through Cal's coverage net.  If I recall correctly, one of those defenders was #1 Cal cornerback S. Williams.  One of my friends said two Cal defenders were hanging back.  Well, such a coverage scheme is really interesting.  It provides a second line of defense against a returner who breaks through the coverage net.  However, it allows a returner to better penetrate the coverage net because there are less defenders in the coverage net (only eight defenders, since the kicker and potentially up to two other Cal defenders are hanging back).  This is something to keep an eye out for next week versus Colorado.  It's something I should have been more astute in observing.  I'm sort of upset at myself for not taking more notice to this, and now I'll have to wait another 6 days to see what exactly is really going on.

(6) Riley played pretty well.  I think for the most part he had a good day.  He avoided sacks.  Threw catchable balls.  I think there was a slight stretch where he seemed to go cold and had one or two un-catchable balls.  He did have one false start, and a delay of game, so he's got to be a bit more aware. 

(7) Riley's experience showed and Sweeney's in-experience showed.  Riley looked calm, and composed.  He knows what he's looking for.  He seems to be reading his various options.  But when Sweeney came in, Sweeney looked much less composed.  It seemed like he was only really making it through two or three progressions and then just running (although that decisiveness can be a plus too).  Sweeney, a few times, seemed like he was looking at a receiver he wanted to throw to, but the receiver was covered so Sweeney would wait to see if the receiver would get open, rather than checking another option to see if that other receiver was open.  This is just my speculation though.  I view the games from the stands and not from Sweeney's eyeballs so I'm not entirely sure where or what he's looking at, but that's just my interpretation of what I felt like Sweeney was doing. 

(8) Sweeney is pretty quick.  Not much else to add here.  I don't know how fast he is, but he's definitely quick.

(9)  The game hasn't slowed down for Sweeney, and Sweeney's huddle management needs work.  You'll often hear that cliche that when a QB gets more experience, the game will slow down for him.  I think that cliche is pretty true.  And that cliche hasn't occurred for Sweeney.  Sweeney's inexperience made the huddle management duties too fast for him.  Once Sweeney came in, he needed to re-receive the play signals from the sideline QB on multiple occasions.  Asking to re-receive the playcall from the sidelines wastes valuable play clock time (that playclock time is even more valuable this year since Ludwig is using a lot of plays with pre-snap shifting this year).   In comparison, I didn't see Riley ever needing to re-receive the playcalls from the sidelines. 

(10) Sweeney's huddle management needs work.  On one occasion, Sweeney apparently ran the wrong play.  For those of you who have read my post-game thoughts before, you know this is nothing new.  It happens on rare occasion.  Sometimes the QB on the field mis-interprets a signal.  Sometimes the QB looks at the wrong play on his wristband despite seeing the right signal.  Maybe even the sideline QB gets sloppy with his signaling and sends in the wrong number (remember, Cal sends the majority of its playcalls in using the "number/wristband" system as opposed to signaling in the playcall directly with unmasked signals). 

So what happened this time?  Immediately after the play occurred, I noticed the coaches intensely talking with [name of signaling QB redacted]. This is not normal.  [name of signaling QB redacted] then gave Sweeney a "what are you doing?" sort of signal.  This is not normal.  And then quite distinctly, [name of signaling QB redacted] re-signaled in the play number that was supposed to be run.  Again, this is not normal.  Sweeney immediately opened up his wristband to look at the play corresponding to the number.  This is not normal.  All this occurred within seconds after the play had finished and before the next play had been called.

I'm not sure where the mistake occurred, but most likely Sweeney mis-interpreted a signal from [name of signaling QB redacted].  If I recall correctly, the play that was called was either "57" or "53".  My confusion which it was is probably the reason why Sweeney was confused too.  You see, the hand signals for the digits "3" and "7" are fairly similar.  So similar that it's very likely that Sweeney either saw the  "3" when it was a "7" or vice versa.

(11) Fullback E. Stevens looked seriously confused pre-snap on one play.  I think this might have been in the 1st quarter, but on one particular play, Riley had to tell Cal fullback E. Stevens where to go and what to do.  After breaking the huddle, Stevens initially started jogging out to the slot -- a very odd place for a fullback to be.  Then Riley called him back over into the backfield to align him properly pre-snap, and had to tell him his pre-snap motion.  Perhaps Stevens mis-heard the playcall in the huddle or he just had a brain fart and forgot what to do.  This is an inexperience mistake and we'll hopefully see less and less of these mistakes as the younger players get more in-game reps.

(12) Sofele seems a little raw still.  He bounces the ball outside when perhaps he should stay inside.  He also lined up incorrectly on one play.  With 4:58 remaining in the first quarter, Cal runs the zone read but Sofele lines up on the wrong side of the formation.  While Sofele still gets a first down on the run he gets an ear-full from Tedford and Gould after the play when he goes to the sidelines.  You can tell he was on the wrong side of Riley (he was supposed to be to Riley's right) due to the blocking scheme of the offensive line and how the TE Sparks leaves the DE opposite of him unblocked (because that's the backside defender that is unblocked and "read" in the zone read).  Cal runs the very same play again in the 2nd quarter with 6:03 remaining, and Sofele lines up on the proper side of the formation.  This error is on Sofele; however Riley should have caught this mistake too.

(12) Kickoffs are deeper.  Yay.

 

Conclusion:

While I am happy with the win, I am mildly concerned by all the inexperience mistakes I saw.  As I already mentioned above, there were mistakes by fullback E. Stevens, quarterback B. Sweeney, and runningback I. Sofele.  It's better that these mistakes occurred now against UC Davis and not later against Oregon or U$C, but yet at the same time these mistakes shouldn't be happening.  Not when Cal is practicing these plays all week long.  Stevens' mistake, and Sofele's mistake were formation errors.  That's basic stuff that shouldn't be occurring on game day.  Sweeney needing to get the playcall twice is understandable since he's usually one of the QBs giving the signals rather than receiving them, but if he wants to be the starter next year then he's going to have to get that huddle control down pat.  We all know Tedford is big on huddle control and management.

What's more concerning is when veterans make mistakes: a false start on Riley; a delay of game on Riley; an overthrow by Riley to Allen on a comeback route when wide open (2nd quarter).  Riley is practically a three year starter.  He shouldn't be making these easy mistakes.  I understand it's the first game of the season and perhaps expecting perfection is a bit unrealistic since it's been 9 months since the team played a real game against a true opponent (as opposed to each other) but other opponents on the 2010 schedule will be much less forgiving.  If Cal wants to be competitive with the best teams in the Pac-10, they are going to have to be flawless.

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